What did we expect?

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What did we expect?

Postby Ken » Mon Dec 06, 2004 2:24 pm

To build on Bill/Naledi's previous post, I think in all other types of grad schools (medical, business, law, etc.) they consider at least educating their students in careers and helping their alumni find positions to be part of the curriculum. A business school that didn't help students find positions would find that their alumni were not well-placed after graduation and would be unsuccessful as a business school.

Other types of graduate schools have career centers and such. I attended two different graduate schools, and neither had anything like that. It was, "Here's your degree and good luck...."
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What did we expect?

Postby Phillip » Mon Dec 06, 2004 3:31 pm

I'll tell you what I expected . . . I expected advisors and professors who would be responsible for teaching me all that I need to find a job. I expected the school to have concern, true quality control as any other service provider must do, to what happens to people after their education . . . And, I expected to be able to earn a living wage.

That's what I expected, and I think a lot of people feel the same way.

What did we expect?

Postby Mike S. » Thu Dec 09, 2004 5:51 pm

I think the original post gets at the heart of the problem with the graduate system today (at least in the natural and biomedical sciences). The system was set up as an apprenticeship, where you learned from an expert, and then you could go on to run your own lab. This worked fairly well when science was small. But now academic science is big business. And there are very few faculty jobs to move into relative to the number of people in the pipeline - as someone said, it is kind of a pyramid scheme. So, we still have the low pay and long hours of the apprenticeship, but the payoff is gone (or much harder to get) - you don't get to run your own lab and teach at the end. Plus the time to degree, or to permanent job, has stretched out.

I think the system has been allowed to persist thus far primarily because of the large number of talented foreigners who are willing to endure the conditions simply for the chance to work/live in the US, combined with the fact that people love doing science and are willing to put up with a lot to keep doing it. Also, a lot of incoming grad students aren't very well informed. This is partly their fault (for not having a clear picture of what they want to do and asking questions) and partly graduate school's fault (for conveying the misleading impression that they will graduate relatively quickly and/or be able to find a good job when they graduate). But there is very little accountability in the system for making sure that students are trained well - even in how to do good science. The accountability comes in the form of grant money and tenure, and the relationship between obtaining those and training students and postdocs well is indirect.

I think there are too many people getting PhDs and doing postdocs. The system would be more rational if more PhD students were turned into lab technicians and more postdocs were turned into professional staff researchers. But I have no idea how to bring about such changes. The recent attention paid to improving the salaries/working conditions/etc. of grad students and postdocs is a good thing, but it seems to me that there are significant structural problems in the system. Whether they will get worse and/or require major changes remains to be seen.
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What did we expect?

Postby John_Mastro » Thu Dec 09, 2004 7:29 pm

Mike S. is exactly on board. Actually I am hoping to be turned into a professional staff researcher. If not it is a good thing my parents when they die might leave me a comfortable legacy, upon which I might be able to retire into a small condominium, in a nowhere Midwestern state in the middle of nowhere. So far it has been 25 years of hell living without retirement benefits, living under huge stress under the assumption that I am going to do something that will preserve the lab grant flow, 3 total years of unemployment, .... divorce, pathos etc. etc.

What did we expect?

Postby John_Mastro » Thu Dec 09, 2004 7:53 pm

Perhaps the last comment was a bit emotional, however I do not retract from the general thrust. For US citizens, in general, it is a poor career gamble to go into science. Keep in mind that it is largely funded by the US government, which may be rapidly force to cut on expendible items in the budget. Do you trust Congress for your livelyhood??


What did we expect?

Postby Val » Thu Dec 09, 2004 10:04 pm

Mike S. said:

> I think there are too many people getting PhDs and doing postdocs.

I think the economy does not need and therefore cannot support high earners. If all capable people did not go to science, but instead went to business or law or other "high net" occupation, all of them would not get high salaries. In today's America, all technologies for providing basic needs of all humans are developed. The powers-to-be do not feel compelled anymore to mentally strain themselves in order to manage and promote the intellect-intensive occupations. In order to herd the flock, they can get away with the resources they have now. The American society is stagnating. On the other side, there are growing states in Asia that want to grab the power out of the weakening hands of America. This is were science will be put as a cornerstone of the society in the next 10-20 years. I am not sure that the unemployed scientists of the world can and want to move there for the jobs, though.

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What did we expect?

Postby Mike S. » Fri Dec 10, 2004 10:16 am

"On the other side, there are growing states in Asia that want to grab the power out of the weakening hands of America."

This is the kind of thing that is hard to predict, but it's what I was referring to with my comment about changes in the system possibly being necessary. If the pool of talented foreign grad students and postdocs (a large fraction of which come from East Asia) were to contract significantly (which we see some signs of now with increased scrutiny of foreign student visas), I suspect that many training programs would adjust to recruit more American students. But I don't really see any signs that such a contraction will happen anytime soon: the US economy and research infrastructure is so far ahead of everywhere else right now that it will be some time before the various Asian countries (or anyone else) will be able to catch up. But as I said, it's tough to predict the future...
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What did we expect?

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Dec 10, 2004 12:44 pm

Perhaps this is off-topic, but Val's comment about a 'weakening America' concerned me as well.

Recently, I was contacted by an Asian (Japanese) writer who is doing a study of what makes America work. Evidently, there is some interest over there about how it is that we keep advancing on biotech frontiers. They don't understand the American entrepreneurial culture, and his questions were all about the culture in which science is done. I came away with the thought, based on the questions and the writer's responses to my comments, that the USA has had a very unique shared cultural experience in the last couple of hundred years, and that science has benefited from this. I think that this unique "culture" has survived, despite various economic ups and downs, wars, etc, and has always emerged in a strong position. Sure, we don't value science as much as we should, but many posts on this forum tell us that we are not alone in the way we train/reimburse scientists.

But no one can take away the results of entrepreneurs and the remarkable breakthroughs that they have brought -- and will continue to bring to the WORLD, and not just to American society. I don't see any weakening of this country's resolve. We are competitive in everything we do, but at the same time it takes good competitors to give us the ambition to succeed, and therefore it is a good thing that there are countries who are also succeeding in science,

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What did we expect?

Postby A. Sam » Fri Dec 10, 2004 1:16 pm

Research outsourcing has been going on in the US for many years in the form of graduate student labor. I agree with the other posters who said that the best way to restore dignity to those who aspire to research careers is to slash these sweat shop graduate programs. The net effect is that the bulk of the academic research will then be done by techs and it'll get more expensive to do research, but you'll have the best and brightest getting the advanced degrees and we can do away with shipping in armies of international students to fill the training slots. That's demeaning to everyone.

Regarding Dave's last post, the difference between the US vs India or Asia is that from the earliest school days the American system teaches innovation, individuality, expression. We foster creativity and encourage risk taking. That's one reason we suffer in the science and math scores compared to more regimented, rote, memorization and regurgitation systems, but it's also the reason entrepreneurialism and innovation flourishes in the states. So I do advocate for plenty of international students in the US but not just as a way to generate cheap data for grants for us and not as an immigration mechanism for them.
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